Our Culture and Mental Illness-A Vent

Is it just me, or does it seem like with all the talk around Donald Trump’s mental health status, there are people who think they’re trying to dispel myths and stigmas who are actually unintentionally perpetuating myths and stigmas about mental health? I see people throw the term “mental illness” around or repeat what they’ve heard or read from articles online, but they don’t seem to actually comprehend or understand the meaning behind what they’re saying. I think the one that bugs me the most are the people who, while trying to dispel stigma, actually perpetuate the stigma that someone like me who has my diagnoses are fragile creatures who should be pitied and there is nothing that I can do for myself. That somehow, I can’t handle hearing about someone else’s possible mental disorder or that I should be ashamed of possibly being associated with someone like Donald Trump because he might have a mental disorder. Some of these people have good intentions and just don’t realize the meaning behind what they are saying. Others throw around terms like “ableism” at people who they think are perpetuating stigmas.

I hate the term “ableism”. No, I loathe and despise that term.  The ignorance of the so-called “ableist” is much easier for me to deal with than someone who thinks that advocating for me is to view me and portray me as someone who is fragile, should be pitied, and is a victim.

I am by no means a victim. I resent being portrayed as a fragile victim deserving of pity because casting me in that light is a means to an end–attention and validation for yourself. It makes you feel good if people perceive you as being my advocate and my ally, but you’re neither to me.

Yeah. I said it.

If you were really my ally, you would not be speaking about me or people like me in terms of fragility or pity. You would acknowledge that I am a strong, capable person who can function in regular society. You would focus on empowering people like me by raising us up instead of holding us down. You would acknowledge that while I can personally thrive, I still do face some struggles, mainly that which involve people’s attitudes and lack of knowledge about mental health issues and our mental health care system.

We need so desperately to be talking about mental health issues, but at the same time, this conversation must be led by people who have some expertise or experience in this area–the therapists, the psychologists, the people who live with mental disorders, their loved ones, their caretakers, the nurses and the techs who all work in the system, the caseworkers. We all live this directly or indirectly every day. We’re the ones on the front lines. We’re the ones who actually knows what it feels like to experience the stigmas associated with mental health.

Someone from this group must hold the media accountable for their part in perpetuating stigma and stereotypes about mental illness, because they are the biggest culprits in perpetuating stigma.

We can’t even begin to discuss mental illness, mental health, and related topics until people begin to understand what they actually mean. Mental illness, for one, is a legal term, whose definition is set by the individual states. Mental illness and mental disorders are NOT synonymous at all.  A person with a diagnosis of Panic Disorder has a mental disorder, but they most likely do not meet the legal definition of having a mental illness. Mental illness, as a term, is used in criminal proceedings to describe a defendant’s mental state at the time of a crime. Or it is used in civil commitment cases where the family is petitioning the courts to have a relative involuntarily committed because they will not seek treatment for their mental disorder voluntarily AND this disorder affects that person’s ability to take care of themselves and/or that person may be a danger to themselves or to others.

Insanity is another legal term that people get wrong. Insanity isn’t even a clinical term. When people say “stop calling people with mental disorders ‘insane'”, it’s not because they’re being oversensitive or politically correct. It’s because you’re using the term wrong. 

 Another thing that’s bothering me lately is this confusion about narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissism itself is a personality trait. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Cluster B Personality Disorder where, in order to receive a diagnosis, a person must meet a minimum of 5 of 9 criteria. Trumps narcissism is pathological. I noticed this back during the primaries and mostly because I was taking Abnormal Psychology during the spring semester.

Which brings me to another thing that bugs me–how the public just accepts that because someone made a strong case in favor of Donald Trump having a personality disorder, it’s the same as an actual diagnosis by a psychiatrist. It is not.  I could make a very strong case that Donald Trump has NPD. But just because I can make a case by going through all nine criteria and citing examples of his behavior that support my argument, it doesn’t mean he actually has this. Personality disorders happen to be very tricky to diagnose properly because of the fact that they have very high rates of comorbidity with other personality disorders. I’m sure I could get out my Abnormal Psych book, which does list the DSM-V criteria for various mental disorders, and make a case that Donald Trump also has Anti-social personality disorder or Histrionic Personality Disorder, too. But just because I can make a case for it, doesn’t mean he has it.  I read an article today where the author was trying to make the case that Trump shows signs of mania. One of the signs the author listed was his random, stream-of consciousness, speech patterns. I could take that and make the case that Trump might have ADHD.

Now I’m not saying that he has any of this. My point is that you can’t just randomly pick out criteria from the DSM-V and say someone may have Disorder X without having an understanding of what you’re talking about. We can’t be treating the DSM-V like it’s the Psychiatric version of WebMD and that is what I’m seeing people who have little or no background in psychology or mental health doing right now.

Which brings me to another stigmatizing thing: this petition Representative Karen Bass started that is calling for Donald Trump to be forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

First of all, there are no legal grounds for this. There is nothing in the US Constitution that requires that anyone running for POTUS has to go a psychiatric evaluation.

Second of all, while I have the knowledge and self-awareness of my condition to know when I should seek help, I have to recognize that not everyone else does. I do struggle with this, mainly when I see things that others don’t and I am baffled as to why other people can’t see it.

Third, this sort of thing harkens back to the 19th century and the abuses that brought about laws regarding civil commitment and involuntary commitment. No one person should have the power to have another person committed to a psychiatric facility for no good, valid reason.  You must build a case and present it to a judge, who then decides if that person should get a psychiatric evaluation. Then the judge uses the results of the evaluation to determine if involuntary commitment is even warranted.

While NPD is one of the ten personality disorders recognized by the DSM-V, it is highly unlikely that a judge would find that Donald Trump would meet the legal criteria for involuntary commitment. Delusions of grandeur are not even in the same category as the delusions or hallucinations that someone with schizophrenia might experience.

And fourth, civil issues pertaining to mental illness, like voluntary commitment, are handled by the individual states. Each state defines the legal term “mental illness”. Each state defines the procedure that must be followed if a family member wishes to pursue having a loved one involuntarily committed.  The Presidential election is a Federal issue. Which state’s definition of mental illness would apply in this case?

One last thing that bugs me about the way people are talking about Donald Trump and the possibility of his having a mental disorder: NOBODY is bringing up that, if this is indeed a case of someone in the public eye having a mental disorder, the behaviors that we are seeing are the hallmarks of UNTREATED mental disorders.

Many people who have untreated mental illness don’t believe there is anything wrong with them. Or they suspect something is wrong, but they don’t know what or can’t put a name to it. Or they even know something isn’t right, but are unable to get help until they hit their breaking point, which often means they are in the stages of sucidial ideation (thinking about the idea of suicide), considering suicide, or actually attempting suicide.  Or they have a breakdown in public.

Because most people don’t realize that they are having an episode or in the throes of a mental disorder at the time they’re experiencing it, and this happens in public, we just dismiss the behavior as weird or eccentric instead of showing compassion and trying to see that they get the help they need. And then when this person goes public with their diagnosis, we’re quick to dismiss them as seeking attention or trying to avoid responsibility for their actions.

People who have been diagnosed and who live with this every day should be able to talk about it, especially if talking about it aids in their own recovery.

There is treatment available. Granted, much of the issues surrounding mental health is the access, affordability, and availability of treatment for people who wish to seek it. But it is out there. People need to understand that showing signs or getting an actual diagnosis is not the end, but the beginning. They need to understand this in order to help advocate that anyone who wants to seek treatment can get it and not have to wait until they are suicidal or can no longer care for themselves.

I did seek treatment for my smorgasbord of mood disorders. My treatment consists of medications and putting into practice the coping skills I learned through behavioral management, cognitive behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy. I learned how to recognize what might trigger a panic attack. More importantly, I learned that avoiding those triggers just made things worse. I learned how to face them, but more importantly, I learned how to recognize when to push and when to back off with the intention of trying again later. Two years ago, I could not go into a grocery store on a Friday afternoon because of my anxiety. Today, I barely even think about the crowds and the sensory overload around me that fuels my anxiety.

Now if I had to pick one thing that I wish people would understand, it is understanding that I don’t view mental disorders as something I should be ashamed of–not having one (or three), nor being associated with someone who has one, nor the possibility of being associated with someone who shows the behavioral signs of having one but has not been diagnosed nor is being treated for it. I am not ashamed of the term “mental illness”, either.  I feel that people need to understand this so that they stop mistakenly using shame in trying to quell stigma. When I see people who think they’re helping me by telling someone else that they’re shaming me, all I see is that person projecting their own shame and embarrassment onto someone else.

I get it. Mental health is an uncomfortable topic. I wasn’t always comfortable talking about it myself. But the rest of the world is just going to have to get over their discomfort because we really need to talk about this topic.

If I have nothing to be ashamed of, then neither do you.

This is the Best Thing I’ve Seen All Day

I was camping this past weekend and I had no idea that this Pokemon Go was a thing or that everyone and their uncles were playing it. I guess it sounds like fun, but I don’t think it’s something that the local news should devote the first ten minutes of the newscast for. Anyway, in one of the multitude of articles about this game, I came across this quote.

“The Westboro Baptist Church is fighting back, using one of the most commonly known Pokémon: Jigglypuff. …

Source: NPR.org

Bonus:

The best thing I heard all day was the song Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones…while I was eating at Ruby Tuesday’s, the restaurant.

 

Status Update

Got my car back. My AC was broken.

Decided I want a new couch, but I want to make it. I’ve been seeing so many cool ideas for DIY couches on Pinterest.

I have readings and quizzes for school today. Got a lot of that done, too.

The Little Things

I’ve decided (actually I decided this about 7 days ago) to see how long I can go without going on Facebook or Twitter.

So far, so good. While I do have things that are set to automatically post to both sites (like Instagram or whenever I post to this blog), I’ve managed to not check either in a week.

I’ve decided to do this because I really need less negativity in my life. I joined both in 2009 and I’ve seen both sites gone from fun to a big, fat cesspool of negative energy.

I don’t need negative energy in my life. I’m trying to be a better person. Anger is contagious and I find myself, more often than not, getting swept up in the general anger these days. I don’t like the kind of person I become when I get wrapped up in stress and anger.

Maybe it’s the summer classes I’m taking that have gotten me to rethink things. Ethics (Philosophy 220) and SOC 150 (Social Problems). While I am convinced and will probably remain convinced that both philosophy and sociology should be required courses in high school, I can’t convince the rest of the world to study either subject. It’s not my job to do that. I can only worry about me, the kind of energy I allow into my space, the energy I bring into other spaces, and my own words and thoughts. Those are things I can control.

I’m going to be honest. I find other people’s ignorance, especially willful ignorance, to be stressful. If that makes me appear like a snob in other people’s eyes, then so be it.  I’m smart and it’s nothing I should have to be ashamed of. I refuse to compromise on showing my true, damn intelligent self, especially when the rest of the world wants me to dumb down. I won’t do that.

Ignorance is a choice, especially in a world where information is so readily available to anyone who wants to access it. Remaining ignorant because viewpoints that contradict yours scares you is cowardly.

 

Being on social media isn’t ignorant. What “trends”, though, is a sign of ignorance in a way. How we respond to what’s trending is another symptom of this disease of ignorance. Too many people think that we can take life and all of our complex issues and boil it down to single meme or a strawman argument. We can’t. If I find myself getting sucked into these rabbit holes of stress and ignorance, that makes me part of the problem, too.

Nobody listens anymore. We want to be heard, but we don’t want to listen. The irony here is that if we want to be heard, we do have to be better listeners. We have to learn how to better craft our messages so we can get our point across in the most effective way possible. We have to learn how to choose our words–not to be “politically correct”–but so we are heard and our listeners don’t feel that they have to defend themselves.

Mostly, though, we have to learn what humility is and what grace is. Without those qualities, we’re not very good people. The humble person can suck it up and admit that they made a mistake. Grace helps you say it out loud and allows you to learn from them. Humility and grace are necessary for us to admit to our own moments of hypocrisy.

When people can be both humble and show grace, then that leads to insight and self-awareness. The world would be a better place if we all had a little bit of self-awareness.

I’ve found that it’s more difficult for me to practice these things in my life when I’m being sucked into a vortex of negativity.

Yes, there are bad things in the world. But there is still good in this world. The good is in the little things. I’m going to make more time for those little things.

A Question of Gender

This is an unedited, stream-of-consciousness brain dump type of post with a dash of organic chemistry and a pinch of biology thrown in. The opinions in here are mine. The facts belong to everyone. 

What exactly does it feel like to feel “female”?

Or for that matter, what exactly does it feel like to feel “male”?

I pose these questions because in the current debate about transgender individuals and bathrooms and what gender is, those who oppose the right of a transgender person to use the restroom of the gender of which he or she identifies bring up this concept.

I am a heterosexual cisgender female. I’ve been a heterosexual cisgender female for forty-six years–my entire life. There is no doubt in my mind as to my gender identity and my sexual orientation and there never has been.

But I can’t answer the above question. I can’t tell you what it feels like to be female.

I can’t tell you this because I don’t know what it feels like to not feel female.

What does it mean to feel female?

Is it wearing dresses, make-up, doing your hair and getting your nails done?

If this is what it feels like to be female, then what about those women who don’t like to wear make-up, dresses, get manicures, and do the whole glam thing? Does that mean they don’t feel female?

How can someone who is female not feel female?

Does feeling female have to do with body parts, specifically breasts?

Then what about those men who have man boobs? I bet they don’t feel female. Or what about women who have had mastectomies? Or women who are not particularly well-endowed in the chest area?

Or what about women who have had hysterectomies? Do you have to have a uterus in order to feel female?

“Feeling female” is more than body parts.

Hormones. Hormones make you feel female.

Yes, but women have both male and female hormones–progesterone and androgen. Estrogen and testosterone.  Men have both male and female sex hormones, too.

How do we really know that hormones make you feel one gender or the other? Is there a balanced chemical equation out there that gives the proper proportions of each to yield a “feeling”?

How can you quantify a feeling? What elements or chemical compounds make up feeling female? Or male? I can Google the line structure drawing for the chemical compounds of both progesterone and testosterone, but all this tells me is the elements, functional groups, and bonds that make up the chemical structure of the molecule. It doesn’t tell me what the feeling looks like or what comprises it.

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Progesterone molecule. Progesterone is a female sex hormone.
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Testosterone molecule.

 

 

 

 

 

Or maybe it’s the functional groups on the D-ring that determines what feels female or male?  Ketones with an attached methyl group make you feel female and alcohols make you feel male.

By the way, both hormones are steroids. The more you know.

Is it behavior? Do you have to behave a certain way in order to feel female? If so, then what behavior constitutes feeling female?

Is it having children? What about women who are infertile?

Is it knitting? Crocheting? Sewing? What about women who have no interest in any of these crafts? Does their disinterest mean they can’t feel “female”? What about the men who sew, knit, or crochet (and their are plenty. In fact, historically, knitting was considered a man’s domain.)? If you asked them if their craft makes them feel female, I bet they’d say no it doesn’t. I knit and crochet, but I can’t say that either of these make me feel female. I can say that doing both gives me a feeling of accomplishment that I created something with my hands and pride in my ability to do both.

What about women who like to go hunting? Or shoot guns? Does this interest of theirs mean that they are incapable of feeling female?

Wow. I’m no more closer to an answer to this than I was before I started writing this post.

If someone like me, who is so sure of her gender identity, can’t tell you what it means to feel “female”, then how can you?

I see where this is going. It’s coming back to body parts again. And chromosomes.

Except that is not so cut and dried.

XY=male. XX=female. World without end, amen. Amen.

Except there are always exceptions.

Did you know that the Y chromosome only has one purpose?

It does. That purpose is that it serves as a “switch”. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Did you know that from conception until 8 weeks, an unborn baby possesses the rudimentary beginnings of both male and female sex organs?

They do. Humans are female by default. At 8 weeks in utero, the “switch” (Y chromosome), if present, is flipped. This is when physical gender is determined. The unneeded organs dissolve away while the needed ones develop.

That’s all that this Y chromosome does. That is its only function. Males, genetically, tend to inherit more of their mother’s traits than their father’s because the mother supplies the X chromosome, while the father supplies the Y. This is why there are so many genetic traits and diseases that afflict men that are only passed on from mothers to sons.

Except sometimes, the switch is faulty. It happens. A person who is born with both sets of sex organs is called intersexed

“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.

Though we speak of intersex as an inborn condition, intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until she or he reaches the age of puberty, or finds himself an infertile adult, or dies of old age and is autopsied. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing.(ISNA 2016)

So is gender more than parts? What about the parts you can’t see? What about hormones? What about the changes that someone goes through during puberty?

If you’re still not convinced, please watch this video about Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Eden Atwood was assigned the female gender at birth (based upon her external body parts). At puberty, it was discovered that she has male DNA and that her ovaries were actually testicles.

What bathroom is Eden Atwood supposed to use? The ladies room? But genetically, she’s male. She has XY chromosomes.

Except I probably shouldn’t call her a “she” since technically she’s a male. But she looks female and her birth certificate says she’s female, so she’s female, right? She has more female hormones (and the secondary sex characteristics associated with them) because her body cannot tolerate androgen, the hormone that is responsible for secondary sex characteristics associated with males.

Since Eden Atwood is biologically male, but dresses female and uses the ladies room, then shouldn’t we be vigilant every time she enters a bathroom to pee and hide our daughters in case this biological male decides to molest them?

After all, isn’t that the whole argument in favor of these bathroom laws?

There are always exceptions. Always. 

Should Eden Atwood be punished because the “switch” that was supposed to make her either all male or all female didn’t work? Hasn’t this woman been through enough already?

And another thing about hormones–research has shown, several times over, that hormonal surges a woman experiences while pregnant can affect her unborn child. Research has shown a link between these hormonal surges and the sexual orientation of the child later in life. These prenatal hormone surges affect the brains of unborn children. At certain, critical periods of prenatal development, heightened levels of testosterone might masculinize a female fetus while heightened levels of estrogen might feminize a male fetus (Barlow & Durand, 2015 p. 388).

Still think gender is all about biology?

Gender is also a social construct. Who determines what constitutes gender roles?

Society.

If gender roles are rigid and set in stone, then how can they change?

Again, society redefines them.

If gender roles are rigid and immutable, then why do different cultures have different definitions of gender roles than our society does?

Because society defines gender roles.

So gender is not as cut and dried, as black and white, as set in stone as some people argue.

If that’s the case, then how can we define what it feels like to feel “female” or “male”?

How can we define something when we don’t know what its like to not feel that way?

Change is a part of life. How we handle change is a test of our character. We cannot grow as people if we refuse to face change. Change is not fun. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. We’re forced to confront the fact that what we always knew to be certain really isn’t certain at all.

There are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who have the courage to face the uncomfortable and the unknown. Then there are those who would rather hide because they can’t deal with the fact that change is part of life.

When you peel the layers away from this issue, it boils down to one thing. It’s not about who is using what bathroom. It’s not about who can marry whom or who can use this entrance or that water fountain.

This comes down to a group of people who are so terrified of facing the notion that the world is deviating from what they’ve been told it is supposed to be, they feel they have to fight.

Except they’re fighting a losing battle because change will happen whether we like it or not. But what sets these people apart from the rest of us, or even other people who are merely hesitant about facing change, is that the idea of “different” so terrifies them, they have to force the rest of the world to bend to their view. It’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. You can force it in for as much as you want or as long as you want, but it’s not going to go in that hole. And when you’ve come to admit that this square peg won’t go into that round hole, the peg itself is battered and damaged.

There will always be people who insist that not only all the pegs are round (when they aren’t), but those pegs are damned well going to go into that hole even though they don’t fit and will never fit. While you might argue that you could take that peg and whittle it down until it fits that hole, we’re also talking about human beings. Wooden pegs are inanimate objects. Human beings have feelings. You could take a metaphorical knife and whittle away at that square peg/human being, but in doing so, you’re doing damage to that human being.

And this is another difference in viewpoints–humanity. Those who try to put gender into absolute terms often use the argument that a “gun” can self-identify as a female.

No. It can’t. A gun is an inanimate object. It concerns me that people would strip away the humanity of someone who doesn’t fit their definition of gender, but then assign human attributes to an inanimate object. And then these people fail to see the irony in giving human attributes to an object that, in certain hands, can take away human life.

This isn’t about who uses what bathroom. This issue boils down to bravery or cowardice. You either suck it up and face the unpleasant notion that the world doesn’t work in terms of absolutes or you can be a coward and try to force something that is bigger than you and beyond you to fit into a space that is far too small to contain even one-one hundredth of the whole. And then you can be arrogant enough to believe that something that is bigger than you and beyond you will bend to your wishes.

In the meantime, I have more important things to worry about than who is using what bathroom. I have my own life to live, my own journey to take, and my own fears and discomfort in the face of change that I intend to stare down.

I intend to win the battle with myself and my fears and my discomfort. I can’t do that when I’m trying to control things beyond my control. I can’t do that when I am so attached to being right.

That’s another thing about courage. It takes courage to admit that you’re wrong. And I’m not ashamed to say that there have been plenty of times in my life where I was wrong.

Wrong about race.

Wrong about sexual orientation.

Wrong about nationality

Wrong about spirituality.

Wrong about gender.

Wrong about lots of things.

Life goes on. You learn from your mistakes and move forward.

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References

  • Barlow, D. H., & Durand, V. M. (2015). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach (7th ed.). Toronto: Cengage.
  • Intersex Society of North America. (n.d.). What is intersex? Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex

Edited to add references and sources for some information.